No more bunny helmets

Dan Piraro’s Bizarro from Sunday 7/30, in which Vikings with bunny-eared helmets demand horned helmets:

(#1) No more eating grasses, it’s time for Viking pillaging and plundering in an appropriately fierce costume (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 10 in this strip — see this Page)

Now, you’re thinking, I’m going to tell you that actual Vikings didn’t wear ornamental horned helmets, just to look fearsome; that instead they wore more effectively protective helmets of thick leather; and that the horned helmet thing is totally an invention of artists — or some disappointing shit like that. And I am.

It’s a good story, and it makes for amazingly impressive operatic scenes and a totally menacing muscle-hunk Marvel comics superhero (among other things), but all that horns stuff is fanciful.

The Smithsonian Magazine story. Focused on how there really were horned helmets, but not on Vikings — in fact, from long before them.

From Smithsonian Magazine, “The Horned Helmets Falsely Attributed to Vikings Are Actually Nearly 3,000 Years Old: The helmets’ similarities to art from southern Europe shows how goods and ideas traveled during the Nordic Bronze Age” by Livia Gershon on 1/10/22:

(#2) A Prototypical Viking

Some of the most common depictions of Vikings show large warriors wearing helmets affixed with horns. But new research finds that the famed helmets discovered in Viksø, Denmark, 80 years ago actually date to about 900 B.C.E., nearly 2,000 years before the Vikings.

“For many years in popular culture, people associated the Viksø helmets with the Vikings,” Helle Vandkilde, an archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, tells Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe. “But actually, it’s nonsense. The horned theme is from the Bronze Age and is traceable back to the ancient Near East.”

Viking society only developed in the 9th century C.E., and there is no sign that Vikings really wore horned helmets. According to, the legend likely originated with Scandinavian artists in the 1800s, who popularized portrayals of the nomadic raiders wearing the equipment in their works.

The ZME Science story. Focused on how the helmet myth developed. From the popular-science ZME Science website, “Did Vikings ever wear horned helmets? Not really, but here’s why people think they did: How a famous opera proliferated one of the most enduring myths in popular culture” by Tibi Pulu on 5/1/23:

From cartoons to billboard advertisements, the prototypical Viking is portrayed as muscular, red-bearded with a long mustache, and always wearing a steel helmet adorned with cow horns. Admit it, when you imagine a Viking, that’s what immediately pops up in your head.

I hate to break it to you, but we’ve all been living a lie. There is no archaeological evidence to support the fact that Vikings ever sported any headgear other than simple iron helmets or leather caps. But if that’s the case, where did this enduring stereotype emerge from? Well, you have some Scandinavian set designers and one of Wagner’s most iconic operas to blame.

A myth that will live on as long as a timeless opera: It was the year 1876 and all of Germany’s most powerful and fashionable society flooded the quaint, small town of Bayreuth to witness the premiere of Richard Wagner’s highly anticipated new opera, a Norse drama called Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) that fused elements of German and Scandinavian myths and folklore.

The term ‘epic’ barely captures the weight and intensity of this truly monumental work. A full performance totaled almost 15 hours, usually spaced over the course of four nights at the opera, where each night is dedicated to a musical drama. The operas are Das Rheingold (“The Rhine Gold”), Die Walküre (“The Valkyrie”), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods”).

The story itself is a sort of Norse Lord of the Rings, following the struggles of multiple gods, heroes, and mythical creatures over a magical ring that grants its wearer domination over the entire world. The cycle of the four operas unfolds over the course of three generations of protagonists, with the story ending with Götterdämmerung.

The Ring of the Nibelung was meant to be a huge show from the very beginning, and everything was prepared at the highest standard, including the set design. So the production team hired famed costume designer Carl Emil Doepler, who made some incredible garments and props for the operas, including winged and, you’ve guessed it, horned helmets.

… As expected, Wagner’s opera proved an instant hit and it was soon imported by production companies across the world. And as the opera’s influence grew, so did the myth of the Vikings wearing cow-like horned helmets. It’s not clear why Doepler chose this artistic depiction. Perhaps he was influenced by ancient Greek and Roman historians who reported northern European tribesmen wore helmets adorned with all sorts of ornaments, including antlers, feathers, and horns.

Nevertheless, the imagery of horned Viking helmets stuck and was subsequently amplified in the decades that followed the death of Wagner and Doepler. For instance, in 1960, the professional football team based in Minneapolis took the name Minnesota Vikings and adopted the profile of a blond Norseman with a helmet with horns as its logo.

(#3) The Minnesota Vikings logo

Around the same time, Marvel Comics introduced a new fictional comic book superhero called Thor, based on the Asgardian god of thunder, depicted as a giant carrying his mighty hammer Mjolnir, with a winged helmet on his head.

(#4) The superhero Thor

The myth of the horned Viking helmets is so prevalent nowadays that even Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians wear these helmets when they dress up for an event or attend a major sporting event to support their Scandinavian teams.


3 Responses to “No more bunny helmets”

  1. Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

    Next thing you’re going to tell me Viking women didn’t wear brass berzeers.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    😀 😀 😀

  3. Robert Coren Says:

    Well, I did learn something new from this: I thought I had heard that the idea of the Valkyries wearing horned helmets was a modern distortion, possibly influenced by the myth about the Vikings; I didn’t realize that they had appeared in the original production.

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